A dietitian or dietician (dietitian is the preferred spelling within the dietetics profession) is an expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They supervise the preparation and service of food, develop modified diets, participate in research, and educate individuals and groups on good nutritional habits. In a medical setting, a dietitian may provide specific artificial nutritional needs to patients unable to consume food normally. Dietary modification to address medical issues involving dietary intake is also a major part of dietetics. The goals of the dietary department are to provide medical nutritional intervention, obtain, prepare, and serve flavorsome, attractive, and nutritious food to patients, family members, and health care providers.
In many countries only people who have specified educational credentials can call themselves "dietitians" — the title is legally protected. The term "nutritionist" is also widely used; however, the term nutritionist is not regulated as dietitian is and is not an accurate term to give to a dietitian. People may call themselves nutritionists without the educational and professional requirements of registered dietitians. A nutritionist is not a dietitian, as a dietitian is registered to a national board and accredited and a nutritionist is neither.
Different professional terms are used in different countries. Dietitians are valuable members of the medical multi-disciplinary team providing nutritional knowledge and acting as consultants to other health care professionals.
A registered dietitian is more than just a nutritionist. In order to carry the title Registered Dietitian or Dietetic Technician a person must complete coursework and earn a degree as well as complete a number of practicum hours in the field. These steps help direct anyone with a desire to make providing nutrition a career become a Dietitian.
Decide whether your career goal is to become a registered Dietitian (RD) or a Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR). The RD requires a bachelor's degree while the DTR title requires an associate's degree and half as many internship hours.
Search for the accredited Dietetic programs on the American Dietetic Association website. For the Registered Dietitian plan there are two choices, a Coordinated Program that includes coursework and internship or a Didactic Program in Dietetics that doesn't include the 900 internship hours.
Earn the bachelor's degree to become a Registered Dietitian or the associate's degree to become the Technician. If you complete the Didactic Program, the next step is to complete an accredited internship of at least 900 hours.
Take and pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians or Dietetic Technicians in order to receive licenses and credentials. Career options for these degrees, especially RD, include jobs in health care organizations, physician's clinics, government agencies, food industry, sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs.
The services of dietitians are called upon for a range of purposes and situations. Some people may enlist the help of a dietitian to help them change unhealthy eating habits and weight issues. Others may look for their help in creating meal plans that can improve a preexisting medical condition or deficiency that they have. An important part of a dietitian's work is to inform clients of the potential risks and benefits of special foods and how eliminating or incorporating them into their diets can be beneficial. Dietitians may also be consulted to help plan and oversee nutritional goals for families, schools, companies, hospitals and other institutions. They formulate meal plans that are based on their client's objectives and practicability. For example, a hospital or other health based facility may enlist their help to create a meal plan that's cost efficient, beneficial to their patients and meets mandated guidelines.